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Belgium Beer Tour pt. 5 – Sleep at a brewery without getting arrested.

2014-01-22 11.36.01When the plan for our trip to Belgium started to come together, one of the most exciting pieces of information I discovered was a cute little Bed & Breakfast in the charming countryside. It just so happened that this B&B was owned, operated and conveniently located right next to St. Bernardus Brewing. So yes, staying there for two nights was a no-brainer.

St. Bernardus has a fascinating history in its rise to being a heralded name in the Belgium Beer community. For instance, did you know that for nearly 50 years, these were the guys that actually brewed the legendary Westvleteren XII? Back in 1934 St. Bernardus wasn’t a brewery, it wasn’t even a monastery any longer. The Monks had headed back to France and sold their cheese making operation to Evarist Deconinck. Shorty after World War II, the monks of nearby Sint Sixtus (the monks who originated Westvleteren XII) decided they no longer wanted to produce and sell beers outside of what is consumed for the monks. Deconinck stepped in and essentially became a contract brewer for Sint Sixtus while also selling off the cheese business to focus exclusively on beer. The partnership ended in 1992 when the International Trappist Association declared that Sint Sixtus would no longer be able to be called an authentic trappist beer brewer unless all production was moved back within the walls of the abbey. Sint Sixtus went back to making their beers in the monastery but that left the brewers at St. Bernardus in a bit of a pickle. They decided that they would strike out on their own and the monks of Sint Sixtus, being the amicable guys that they are, let the brewers at St. Bernardus keep the original recipes. The only thing that would change is the strain of yeast used in the beers.2014-01-20 16.39.58-2

St. Bernardus is located just outside the small town of Watou, Belgium, about sixty minutes south of Bruges. It’s lush, beautiful countryside with hops farms in many of the surrounding fields. We arrived at the brewery towards the end of the day just after they had stopped brewing, but the smell of hot grains was all around and provided some nice ambiance to our tour of the facilities. I found the tour conducted by the brewery to be very informative and our tour guide to be quite knowledgeable. The tasting area for the tours is also very nice and had a lovely Bavarian style to it. There are a lot of similarities when visiting most breweries, and that is also true when visiting one overseas, however there are some subtle differences that I truly enjoyed being able to talk about with our guide. I would consider it a must do if in the region and a requirement if you are staying at the Bed & Breakfast.

"You can bring these up to my room"

“You can bring these up to my room”

The Beers in their impressive lineup include

Watou Tripel, 7.0%ABV, Grottebier 6.5%ABV, Christmas Ale, this seasonal beer is 10%ABV and is perfectly suitable for aging, Wit, a 5.5%ABV that is easily one of the best whites I’ve ever had, St. Bernardus Tripel 8.0%ABV more of a floral aroma in this tripel and much easier to find here in the U.S. The next three I’m going to mention are the three beers based on the original recipes of the monks of Sint Sixtus, these are the beers that made St. Bernardus what they are and they are all insanely tasty and excellent representations of their respective styles.

  • Bernardus Pater 6, 6.7%ABV – A traditional abbey dubbel with dark fruit flavors and a wonderful nose to it. A nice introduction to the style
  • Bernardus Prior 8, 8%ABV – A bigger version of an abbey dubbel, the color is a little richer and the flavors a little bigger with a smoothness that makes this beer go down far too easily.
  • Bernardus Abt 12, 10%ABV – This is the big one. If you have heard people rave about Westvleteren XII, this is just as good if not slightly better. This quad ale is rich with color, pervasive dark fruit flavors and a super creamy head on top. This is a prime example of the traditional quadruple ale done correctly and to perfection.

Staying at the Bed & Breakfast, known as the Brouwershuis, was a delight. The house itself is a large estate with ample sized rooms and a great deal of comfort to offer travelers from around the world. The Brouwershuis is designed so that multiple guests can easily be accommodated and given as much attention as they require for their stay. Jackie is the main caretaker of the house and she is simply a marvelous person to spend time with. She also does the cooking for your breakfasts and she certainly knows her way around a kitchen with skill. Our breakfasts were the perfect way to start each day while we were there. Jackie was also more than happy to make two excellent suggestions for local restaurants for our dinners, which turned out to be two of the best meals we had in all of Europe (Een Huis Tussen Dag en Morgan & my favorite: ‘t Sparhof). There is also a tennis court on the land and you are able to borrow bikes to go for rides around the countryside or to trek over to the legendary Sint Sixtus and try your hand at acquiring their beers from their café, In De Vrede, although if you plan on bringing some beers back with you I would suggest taking your car instead.  2014-01-20 19.59.48

Since our stay at the Brouwershuis was in the middle of the week in late January we had the entire house to ourselves at night, which made for a very relaxing time, but when we go back it will be at a busier time of year because I’d love to be able to sit in the spacious living room to engage and drink beers with the wide variety of beer lovers that make their way to St. Bernardus on their beer adventures. This brings me to my favorite part – the Brouwershuis beer fridge…actually fridges. You have unfettered access to fully stocked refrigerators with wall to wall St. Bernardus beers! It’s true what Belinda Carlisle says, heaven is a place on earth… it’s Watou, Belgium.

This does it for recapping my trip to Europe, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and perhaps inspired a few ideas for your own beer adventure.

Here is the website for St. Bernardus & here is the Brouwershuis.

Cheers,

Tom2014-01-20 22.21.43


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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 3 – Deck the Halls with Beers aplenty…Beers #9-12

Here we are and Christmas is upon us. I can smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire but I can’t let that distract me from the visions of great holiday beers that are dancing through my head. Let’s wrap this up like a present to put under the tree.

Picking up where we left off…

9. Lost Abbey – Gift of the Magi – Belgian Golden Ale 9.5%ABV Leave it to the mad geniuses at Lost Abbey to create a beer based on the Three Kings and the gifts they delivered to the baby Jesus; Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What we get is an ale of golden color that uses the bark of Frankincense to add the bittering component and a dash of the herb known as Myrrh. The beer is delicious! Even if you don’t care for the bible, this beer might cause you to reconsider. Once the big, frothy head on this beer settles down you will find a pleasant spiced aroma waiting for you. First taste will bring a mild sweetness to your palate then the hops will come on the back end. The beer has some crispness to it as well and as it warms there will be a little bit of dryness to the finish. As usual with beers from Lost Abbey, this can be bottled aged which is never a bad idea if you can be patient.

If it's good enough for Jesus...

If it’s good enough for Jesus…

10. Delirium – Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 10.%ABV – In my house there are few rules as simple as the “The pink elephant will never steer you wrong.” OK, so maybe the rules in my house are a little weird. Noel is another fine example of Belgian’s making great beers, especially for the holidays. The pour is a rich mahogany color with a strong nose of holiday spice and fruits. The beer drinks much the same way with a hint of sweetness and bitterness surrounded by strong spices. This beer also finishes with a slight dryness. As it happens, this beer can be aged as well.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

11. Brasserie Dubuisson – Scaldis Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 12%ABV – If you go looking for this one, the name on the label that jumps out is simply the ‘Scaldis Noel’. This is a big beer in a little bottle. It pours a rich dark amber color with a big frothy head of a creamy color. The nose is all spice and fruits and you can detect a hint of the strong alcohol that lies waiting for you. It has a sticky sweet quality that mingles well with the spices involved. The beer drinks incredibly well especially as the flavors warm and have a similar effect on your body. This is another beer that came on my radar late as I was formulating my list and came on strong to knock other contenders to the side with relative ease. This beer also cellars well so I might grab a few more to stuff my own stocking with this year.

The surprise performance!

The surprise performance!

12. St. Bernardus – Christmas Ale – Belgian Quadrupel 10%ABV – While it was not initially my intention, I did save the best for last. This beer ranks right up there with actually witnessing the birth of Christ, minus seeing placenta and all that nasty stuff. This beer is worth turning into Ebeneezer Scrooge and hoarding for your self. It’s that damn good! It pours super dark and with a wonderful cream colored head and a sensual nose of dark fruit, candied sugars and mulled spices. The taste is complex and understated with notes of caramel and Belgian hops on the backend. It refrains from overwhelming the palate and it masks its high alcohol content superbly. The Christmas ale goes down silky smooth and can do nothing but remind you of all the comforts of the holiday. If I had need of a fireplace in Southern California I would sit in front of it with this beer and think of Christmases long, long ago. As it happens, this beer is also prime for ageing and it may be the first beer that I attempt to cellar. I can’t recommend St. Bernardus’s Christmas Ale enough, it’s it alive with the spirit of the season.

If it's good enough for Snoopy...

If it’s good enough for Snoopy…

 

So that wraps up the list of my twelve favorite beers of the Christmas season. Belgium made its presence felt on these final four didn’t they? With any luck, next year, I’ll find twelve all news ones to rave about and as always, I’d love to hear any recommendations that you might find.

Cheers and Merry Christmas,

Tom